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InfoQ Homepage News SAP's Jonathan Becher Claims That Brainstorming Does Not Work

SAP's Jonathan Becher Claims That Brainstorming Does Not Work


In the SAP Newsroom blog Jonathan Becher recently posted on the topic "Is Brainstorming Brain Dead?". Brainstorming is a method frequently applied within system and software development projects. Becher claims, the technique of brainstorming has proven to be a failure.

As Becher explains, Brainstorming has its roots in Alex Faickney Osborn who published several books on creative thinking. In the book “How To Think Up”,  Osborn introduced the technique of Brainstorming which defines as

a group or individual creativity technique by which efforts are made to find a conclusion for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its member(s).

Becher does not believe in Brainstorming anymore, because he has seen little evidence that the technique actually works:

Group brainstorming sessions might produce a higher volume of ideas than a single person would but groups don’t produce higher quality ideas.  A small number of people often dominate the conversation and group think almost always happens as a result of peer pressure.  In my experience, the most creative ideas have come from individuals working alone.

To strengthen his position, the blog author cites some research studies. In particular, he quotes the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham:

…business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups. If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone.

Becher’s conclusion is not that group collaboration can’t work. As an example he mentions design thinking which has been successfully applied at SAP.

One of the blog readers Naji Aimahmoud left a comment that does not support Becher’s conclusions:

Brainstorming is a group or individual creativity technique and your conclusion is favouring individual versus group creativity. I think brainstorming is excellent technique for group and individual but for different goals. We could achieve teaming and ownership through the group (in well managed session) and creativity through individual.

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Community comments

  • Sometimes it doesn't work

    by Augusto Rodriguez,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    I can think of a few scenarios where brainstorming might not work, but not because it just doesn't work, but because some of people's personalities. E.g. if someone in the team has bully personality, the chances that the team might open are close to nil.

    It's interesting that, by claiming that creative team work is useless, they are also implying that other techniques, such as 6 thinking hats are also useless.

    I pity the people who have to work with these folks.

  • Haven't we...

    by Werner Schuster,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    ... had a brainstorming debate earlier this year, kicked off by Jonah Lehrer's article. Scott Berkun gives a good overview of the pros/cons of brainstorming:

  • Re: Haven't we...

    by Augusto Rodriguez,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    Thanks a lot for sharing that link Werner!!!

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